PEORIA, Ill. --
Back in 1981, our unit did our two-week annual training at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. I was 21. It was a community relations mission, indoor concert, at a retirement home. I remember this so clearly.
A resident came up to me — a woman, an elderly woman — and she looked at me, and she said, “Steve! Steve! I knew you’d come back.” And she hugged me. I’m 21, thinking “Oh boy, what’s this all about,” you know?
I remember hugging her. I’m not so sure I said anything special, because maybe I would’ve remembered that, but I hugged her and she walked away.
That memory always stuck with me, until I was reminded of it again numerous times after having the privilege of performing “Taps.” Because many times when we’re performing “Taps,” you’re the only person in uniform at the funeral or ceremony. I would wear sunglasses and gloves usually, and I would see the faces of people: sorrow, pride, a nod, a tear.
And then I realized after thinking about events like that as my career went on, that it wasn’t Greg Koger that sparked that woman’s memory. It was the uniform: the cloth of our nation.
I had the privilege of wearing that uniform. And I realized as I even got longer in my career that with that privilege comes responsibility. We are lucky to be able to wear the cloth of our nation.
For me, it’s been a privilege and an honor to be a member of the Illinois Air National Guard, it’s been a privilege and an honor to be a member of this unit, and for one day when I was a younger Airman, it was a privilege and an honor to be a man named “Steve.” I will never forget that for the rest of my life.
Editor’s note: Senior Master Sgt. Greg Koger retired from the U.S. Air Force as the Air National Guard Band of the Midwest’s senior enlisted manager March 2 after 41 years of service with the 566th Air Force Band, Illinois Air National Guard. His career amounted to more than half of the unit’s existence.